Month 21 (March 2013)

This month I have been mostly... Eating and exercising, Edwardian-style

Booking is now open for our final event, A Celebration of the Samuel Butler Project, which will take place on Saturday 11th May. As well as an exhibition of highlights from the collection, we’ve got two very different but equally fascinating talks lined up: first, journalist and author Simon Heffer will discuss Butler in his Victorian context, as an atheist and controversialist; then Roger Robinson will regale us with stories from Butler’s schooldays, when he participated in the earliest examples of organized cross-country running races (yes, he really was a man of many talents!). If that wasn’t incentive enough, we’ll be serving free tea and biscuits between the two talks. I hope to see you there! For booking information just follow the web link above.

Event poster
A date for your diary!

It’s always exciting when people want to make use of the collection, and I was delighted when some of the graduate students, inspired by recent Butler-related events at St John’s, decided to recreate an ‘Erewhon Dinner’ as part of their annual social calendar. The original Erewhon Dinners, which ran from 1908 to 1914, were dinners held in Butler’s honour, with the intention of keeping the memory of his literary and artistic legacy alive. Numerous writers, artists, professionals and socialites (including E.M. Forster and George Bernard Shaw) attended these events, which only came to an end when the First World War intervened. I helped the students to research and replicate the original menus and table plans (which are preserved in the collection), and used the catalogue to dig out biographical information about many of the original attendees. It was fascinating to see the range of people who’d been connected with Butler during his lifetime or subsequently influenced or enthused by his works and attitudes. At the 2013 dinner everyone adopted the persona of (and most people dressed as) one of the Edwardian guests, and speeches were given, reflecting on the relevance of Butler today. It was a truly memorable evening.

Menu for VIIth Erewhon Dinner, 1914
Menu from the 1914 Erewhon Dinner (VIII/10/1)

One of the personalities who attended the dinners was The Honourable Mrs R.C. Grosvenor, a friend of Butler’s and the author of one of my favourite quirky items in the Butler Collection: a pamphlet entitled Physical Exercises for Women and Girls of all Classes. Having been reminded of this, I’ve written a short article about it for the Library’s Special Collections Spotlight, which you can read here.

We also hosted a group of Year 11 and 12 students from Darwen Aldridge Community Academy in Lancashire, who were visiting Cambridge to find out more about university life. After a brief tour of the Library they tried their hands at being Curators for an Hour, surveying an assortment of items from the Butler Collection and identifying some that they would include in their own mini-exhibition.

Pupils in the Old Library
Curators for an hour, in the Old Library

You can now read more about Samuel Butler and the history of the collection in a short illustrated article I've just written for the Johnian blog.

Next month

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